Certified extradition request for man accused of Iraq murders

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FILE – This undated reservation photo provided by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office shows Ali Yousif Ahmed Al-Nouri, who was arrested in January 2020 in Arizona in connection with an extradition request made by the Iraqi government and was accused of participating in the 2006 murder of two police officers in Iraq. On Friday, April 1, 2022, an Arizona judge determined there was probable cause that Ahmed, who came to the United States as a refugee in 2009 and became a U.S. citizen in 2015, participated in the murders. The judge sent the extradition request to the office of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who will make the final decision on whether to send Ahmed to Iraq. (Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office via AP, file)

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A judge has certified the Iraqi government’s extradition request for a driving school owner from Phoenix, accused of participating in the murder of two police officers 15 years ago in the Iraqi city of Fallujah as a chief an al-Qaida group, sending the extradition decision to Washington to decide.

In Friday’s ruling in Arizona, US Magistrate Judge Michael Morrissey found there was probable cause that Ali Yousif Ahmed Al-Nouri, who came to the US as a refugee in 2009 and became a citizen American in 2015, participated in the murders carried out by masked men in June 2006 and October 2006.

The US Department of Justice has confirmed that it has no record of ever extraditing anyone to Iraq under a decades-old US-Iraq treaty.

Despite inconsistencies in the statements of those interviewed about the two attacks, Morrissey ordered that the extradition request be sent to Washington. He said an inconsistency on the part of a person cooperating with authorities was not sufficient to undermine probable cause in one case and that other statements made by a cooperator in the other murder are consistent in many cases. many important details, even though there was an inconsistency in this person’s account. .

The magistrate judge rejected Ahmed’s claim that his extradition is not authorized under a provision of the US-Iraq treaty that prohibits extraditions for politically motivated offences. He concluded that al-Qaeda was not part of an internal uprising or violent political unrest by any single judicial standard and that the killings were instead acts of international terrorism.

David Eisenberg, a lawyer who represented Ahmed, said the extradition carries a potential execution risk for his client and that he intends to file a motion with the court seeking a review of Morrissey’s order. .

Morrissey has not made any findings as to whether Ahmed is innocent or guilty of the charges or whether his extradition is warranted. Instead, he determined that there was evidence of probable cause to support each charge and certified the claim.

The decision to extradite Ahmed to Iraq ultimately rests with Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s office, although the Justice Department usually plays a lead role in the extradition process. The Justice Department declined to comment on the decision.

Morrissey said the decision on whether humanitarian grounds should be used to deny extradition was left to the secretary of state, not the courts.

Prosecutors say Ahmed was seen by witnesses during the killings and later fled Iraq to avoid prosecution.

They questioned Ahmed’s credibility, saying he gave conflicting explanations of how he was shot and wounded in Iraq and they could not determine why he spent time in a Syrian prison before moving to the United States.

Ahmed denied any involvement in the murders and having been a member of a terrorist group. His lawyers argued that Ahmed would not get a fair trial due to the corruption of the Iraqi justice system and that he would likely face execution if forcibly returned to his homeland.

One of Ahmed’s first lawyers had questioned why it had taken more than a decade for Iraqi authorities to formally charge his client and criticized accounts of the murders of informants who had “everything to gain by handing over to the administration a supposed “terrorist refugee” in an election year.”

President Donald Trump’s administration had been highly critical of the Obama-era settlement program, questioning whether enough had been done to weed out those with ties to terrorism.

Nearly a year ago, a judge in Northern California refused to authorize the extradition of Omar Abdulsattar Ameen, accused of committing murder for the Islamic State, to Iraq. The judge said cellphone evidence showed Ameen, who was granted refugee status in the United States in 2014 on the grounds that he had been a victim of terrorism, was in Turkey at the time of the murder.

In the first shooting in which Ahmed is charged, authorities say an attacker pointed a gun at a witness’s head, while another attacker who began shooting at a police officer encountered a malfunction with his armed.

Another assailant then killed police lieutenant Issam Ahmed Hussein. The witness then identified Ahmed, who was not wearing a mask, as the leader of the group, according to court records.

Four months later, Iraqi authorities said Ahmed and other men shot and killed officer Khalid Ibrahim Mohammad as he stood outside a store.

A person who witnessed the shooting recognized Ahmed, whose mask had fallen off, as one of the assailants, according to court records.

Ahmed’s lawyers had said violence and unrest in Iraq prompted their client to flee to Syria, where he had lived in a refugee camp for three years before moving to the United States. Authorities said Ahmed spent time in a Syrian prison, although they could not determine what landed him behind bars.

Defense attorneys say Ahmed volunteered in the Phoenix refugee community and worked as a cultural advisor to the US military, traveling to bases in other states to help military personnel while that he was preparing to deploy to the Middle East.

Ahmed bought a house on the northwest outskirts of Metro Phoenix and operated a driving school largely catering to immigrants from the Middle East. He has been detained since his arrest in January 2020.

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This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s first name.

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Associated Press writer Eric Tucker in Washington contributed to this report.

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